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Critical Content: Your Park in Pictures

Would you book a vacation if you couldn’t view any photographs of the resort, area, or facilities? What if the images were there, online, but lackluster, absent of the very things you look for in a getaway? Would you cut the property some slack and make a reservation or would you click around, looking elsewhere for the experience you picture in your mind?

What happens if a property makes the effort to take beautiful pictures of their grounds and their guests enjoying themselves and wisely uses the images on their website and across their social media landscape? The Y Partnership study, 2014 Portrait of American Travelers, found that Millenials (born approximately between 1977 and 2004) “cite photos of the hotel and resort facilities” and “photos of the area” as the most desirable features of a hotel or resort website.

Regardless of your generation, I’d wager that most things equal, given the option of booking a stay that looks lovely and booking one that appears mediocre, you are much more inclined to stay somewhere that you’ve seen beautiful, maybe even evocative photographs. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Using Pictures Properly

Pictures might be worth even more these days with the Internet and photosharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest rapidly gaining all-star-status. Photos allow us to put others in the moment, share adventure and fun, and communicate the many terrific things we have to offer the camping public. Planning for and using photos in your overall digital marketing plan is one piece of your “content marketing” strategy, content that tells a story and begs to be shared.

Wonder how to go about taking great, sharable pictures? Start with these tips when photographing your park’s activities, events, and facilities:

  • Time of day makes a difference: High-noon casts harsh shadows and bright, unflattering light on your subjects. If possible, choose morning or late afternoon when the light is softer and more pleasing.
  • Pay attention to the background: Bright light from behind will put your subject in a dark shadow. A too busy background will clutter the shot. Watch for oddball “appendages” on your subjects (like “horns” from tree branches, etc.) that appear courtesy of the background.
  • Include people in your shots: Help viewers picture themselves in the action by including campers having fun, playing games, toasting s’mores, or doing whatever else your park’s claim to fame may be.
  • Even if it is bright, use a fill flash for close-ups: A fill flash does exactly what is says, fills in the dark shadows that otherwise would not be illuminated. However, most fill flashes on your camera reach no further than five to eight feet away, so get in the zone if you need a fill.
  • Experiment with different angles: Think about the situation, usage and your desired results. Try shooting from the ground up, taking broad, wide pictures from atop a bleacher, get close-in, straight-on.
  • Shoot hi-res images: Set your camera on the highest resolution setting. While smaller images are best for your website and social sharing – images can always be reduced in size but never bumped to a higher resolution – they may come in handy for printed collateral, newspaper articles, etc.
  • It’s digital, take plenty of pictures: Probably the most practical tip of all is to take lots and lots of pictures. Ask any pro, two or three snaps won’t cut it. The more you take the more comfortable you and your subjects get, the better chance you have of capturing a great image, and the more experience you’ll gain.

In addition to taking great pictures:

  • Utilize an online tool such as Share as Image to create beautiful branded images with inspiring words or quotes.
  • Use a logical naming system for your photos (as opposed to img637.jpg as dubbed by your camera) to aid in search engine indexing.
  • Understand that search engines can’t “read” images thus require you to do an easy bit of backend HTML work to optimize your website images. Add a title (what the website visitor sees when they mouse over your image) and an alt tag (what you want the search engines to know about your image).
  • Take advantage of social sharing buttons for your images allowing site visitors to share your content across their social networks.

Keeping it Real

As you might expect, there can be a dark side to images on a property’s website. What if the photographs are beautiful but less than true-to-life? You know what I’m talking about: photos of a pristine seashore sunset for a property that’s a good 50 miles from the ocean; gorgeous pools that, in truth, saw their heyday in 1980; well-appointed bathhouses that are actually in dire need of a bottle of bleach and a tube of caulk; or well-kept sites that in reality have broken, crooked electric boxes and weeds exploding below the water hook-up.

Therre’s an interesting website, Oyster.com, calling itself “The Hotel Tell-All” says this on its site: “Our special investigators visit, photograph, review, and rate each hotel. We uncover the truth before it’s “uh-oh” time.” And oh yes, they do quite a job of it. Take a look at what I mean on their Photo Fakeouts page. While I don’t expect to see a campground site like this, consumer-generated images of your property are everywhere – on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – even YouTube.

The best advice I can offer? Be true to your park’s reality. If you’re revamping your soccer field don’t set an expectation of lush, tightly mowed, green, green grass. You’ll only disappoint your guests and gain a reputation for inaccurately portraying your park.

Picture Perfect

The outdoor hospitality industry is so fortunate to have an incredibly visual product to promote. It’s the great outdoors already! Share the spectacular beauty that a camping vacation can deliver. Make a statement. Invite website visitors to experience your special brand of hospitality. Invoke memory-making emotions. Encourage sharing. Keep it real and keep growing your business. After all, what business owner wouldn’t like to generate a thousand wonderful words?